Review: "Tight Five" Stands Up to Mortality

Tight Five

Written by Jennifer Downes and John Peña Griswold

Directed by John Peña Griswold

Presented by New Ambassadors Theatre Company at the Hudson Guild Theatre

441 W. 26th St., Manhattan, NYC

September 7-24, 2023

Priyanka Arya Krishnan and Jennifer Downes. Photo by Mordecai Nuccio.
Most of us have plans for self-improvement that are contingent with some kind of "if only"–if only we had more time or funds or resources or support, surely we would succeed, perhaps even transformatively. In Tight Five, a superb new play from New Ambassadors Theatre Company's Jennifer Downes and John Peña Griswold, one woman offers another the chance to have all of the obstacles on her path to the top of her career removed. The question, though, as always with such offers, is, at what cost? As the funny and captivating Tight Five, playing in repertory with the equally terrific new comedy Irregulars (read our review here), unspools its answer, it tackles big questions of what it means to live, love, and die while never losing sight of the sharply drawn individuality of its characters.
Chase Naylor and Priyanka Arya Krishnan. Photo by Mordecai Nuccio.
Syd Meyers (Jennifer Downes) has a minimally successful stand-up comedy career and a perhaps too-friendly relationship with alcohol. While waiting at a hospital for the results of a medical test, she is approached by Diana (Priyanka Arya Krishnan), whose scarlet dress betokens temptations to come. The mysterious Diana may be lacking in the ability to read and respond to social cues, but she is flush with money and connections, as well as knowledge of Syd's life. Diana informs Syd that she is dying, and soon, and proposes to help Syd use what time is left to her to stop (in Diana's view) making excuses and actually live up to her potential (or, at least one version of it). It takes some convincing, but soon Diana takes over managing Syd, in more than strictly the business sense–coming to Syd's Brooklyn apartment, flying Syd's high-school ex-boyfriend, Shawn (Chase Naylor), who has never moved on from their relationship, to New York on a private jet, and rubbing Syd's fiancée, Melissa (Starr Kirkland) the wrong way. All of this will ultimately force Syd to make some life-in-the-face-of-death decisions about what she really wants and who and how she really wants to be.  
Starr Kirkland and Jennifer Downes. Photo by Mordecai Nuccio.
In addition to the more abstract, universal concerns such as people's fear of their own success and the complicated mix of grief, relief, and freedom around truly accepting that one is going to die, Tight Five can also be seen as more specifically exploring the exploitation of artists and the highly managed commodification of their lives in the performing arts industry, what people are willing to sacrifice for artistic and/or career success, and what it looks like, for good or ill, to prioritize love for someone else. These explorations draw additional power and fascination from excellent performances. Naylor wrings comedy and pathos from a character whose problematic lovesickness turns out to be more self-aware than he at first lets on, and Kirkland potently embodies the struggle between Melissa's strong principles and self-respect and the strength of her love for Syd. Syd herself is winningly brought to flawed, funny, often bemused life by Downes, and Krishnan is never less than a riveting presence as the peremptory, cajoling, mercurial Diana. Diana sees herself as a sculptor of human clay, but with Tight Five, it is New Ambassadors that has molded something outstanding.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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